Sean Hall admits that being a private investigator is only cool half of the time. When not ditching members of the Church of Scientology, chasing down members of the Amish Mafia, or helping the citizens of Lancaster, Sean spends a lot of time “sitting around.” Honestly though, who wants to hear about the boring bits?
“When it is exciting, it can be just like it is on TV,” says Sean in the back room of his Duke Street office. On the far wall, a collection of gadgets sit on shelves in museum-like fashion: fake street light covers for hiding cameras, watches with built-in lenses, bolt-laden boxes meant to disguise tracking devices hidden under cars.
“I got into that for a while. If I had to dress up, I put a gold watch on,” says Sean, pulling a piece from the shelf. A lot of the items are custom made, like the Starbucks cup with the pin-sized camera.
Before he opened Lancaster Detective Agency, Sean served in the U.S. Air Force as a military police officer with top secret clearance. He returned to his native Pennsylvania and was meeting up with a friend for lunch when he took a most fortunate wrong turn and ended up in the parking lot of a detective agency.
“So, I went in and got a job,” he says. “I was kind of in between… and I was always interested in the job, ever since I was a kid.”
His first case was a suspicion of stalking “with a lot of harassment attached to it.” He was contacted by a concerned resident and, after a meeting and long discussion, decided to take the case.
“A lot of little stuff can look like it’s not a big deal,” warns Sean. “There were other things that were going on at the same time. But then the lady’s dogs started dying.”
Both he and the owner suspected someone was poisoning the pooches. So, he did a lot of “sitting around” and watching. He ended up catching the guy “doing something simple,” but enough to garner citations. He could never pin “the other stuff on him” and a motive for the perp’s actions was never revealed.
Creepy, yes, but stalking cases are the most common job in his line of work, like when Sean caught a guy in Manor Township outside his client’s house, at night, wearing a ski-mask. He was able to detain the subject until police arrived and the stalker ultimately received a prison sentence of one year.
“He was breaking into their children’s room a little after midnight. There was a relationship there. He had previously lit her porch on fire and put stuff in her gas tank,” says Sean.
Catching criminals in the act is a rush, but Sean also investigates things like insurance fraud, child custody cases, and relationship matters like alimony, cohabitation, and infidelity. While local jobs are his bread-and-butter, Sean also has taken on some high-profile cases. His work investigating members of the Church of Scientology sounds like scenes from an action thriller. He gets off the plane in Tampa or Los Angeles and makes his way out of the airport only to spot a team of private investigators waiting for him. He takes a seat and waits. Hours pass. After a long enough time, he knows who is there waiting for him. Who else would stand around an airport exit for hours if they weren’t watching for someone in particular? Now knowing who he needs to ditch, he picks up his rental car and heads to a motel. The motel is a dummy location meant to throw anyone off his trail. He ditches the rental car, swapping it out for a vehicle set at a predetermined location. Next, he locates his mark.
“I was hired by a production company that was filming a TV show reuniting families. My job was to locate the person inside of Scientology. It was an adventure. It was a lot of fun, but also very stressful,” says Sean, who also worked with Amish Mafia to track down “Lebanon” Levi Stoltzfus.
In the Discovery channel show, Sean produces footage of the star having multiple girlfriends. The series about Scientology never aired, but he learned valuable lessons from the experience and made worthwhile connections.
There’s more to being a licensed private investigator than preventing domestic violence and chasing down TV personalities, but Sean can’t let us in on all his secrets. However, once we finish this interview, he shows off his collection of spy gear… or perhaps better known as “tools of the trade.” It is a pretty cool job indeed.